The government is being sued by a Congolese university lecturer wrongfully arrested during a holiday visit to the UK and then transferred and detained in five centres within a fortnight, spanning England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Jean-Pierre Djimbonge, 51, was held as he left a flight to Northern Ireland. He believes he was victim of an unfair trawl of such flights by immigration officers focusing their attention on non-whites.
The lecturer in hydraulics and thermo-dynamics had the appropriate travel documents and was released only last week, when he was finally able to engage lawyers to make representations on his behalf.
Told of the case, Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs select committee, said officials may need to review their procedures for communicating with detainees. “It seems ludicrous to transport someone in detention to three different immigration centres only for him to be released without charge,” Vaz said.
Now recovering with friends, Djimbonge told the Guardian: “It was a terrible experience. I was handcuffed and treated like a criminal. I have diabetes and heart problems. The whole experience violated my dignity and has left me very traumatised. I believe that I was picked out on the flight and stopped because I’m black. I’m a victim of racism. I never expected to be spending my holiday locked up in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.”
A regular visitor to Europe for business and holiday purposes, the academic arrived in London for a few weeks’ holiday on 2 September, with a tourist visa valid for six months. He flew to Belfast, where he planned to spend a few days, on 6 September. He had made a reservation at a hotel there and had booked his return air tickets.
But he was stopped by immigration officials who searched his suitcase and found three letters he says he planned to post to friends, two in Germany and one in the Republic of Ireland. Officials said the letter addressed to his friend in the Republic of Ireland was evidence that he was planning to go there unlawfully. The letter was opened and found to contain nothing untoward. Irish Garda confirmed that the man the letter was addressed to was legally resident in Waterford.
Djimbonge was first held in a police cell in Belfast and then taken by boat to Dungavel immigration removal centre in Scotland. After a week there he was driven to Colnbrook immigration removal centre near Heathrow airport. Four days later he was moved to Oakington in Cambridgeshire. Three days later he was taken back to Dungavel.
The transfer from Dungavel to Colnbrook occurred overnight, and he was forced to urinate into a flask as there were no toilet stops on the journey.
His solicitor, Ho Ling Mo, is seeking compensation and a judicial review challenging UK Border Agency’s claim that he was planning to enter the Republic of Ireland illegally.
She said that in the past two years she has been dealing with at least one or two similar cases a week, mostly involving people from ethnic minorities.
A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said: “Our recently-created border force integrates customs and immigration staff, equipped with state-of-the-art technology, to detect illegal immigrants and smuggled drugs and weapons.
“We regularly undertake risk-based and intelligence-led operations in conjunction with police and Irish authorities, at ports and on our borders within the common travel area. These joint operations have successfully prevented foreign nationals from crossing the boundary illegally in both directions.
“We will always seek to limit the number of times detainees are moved between immigration removals centres but it will sometimes be necessary for operational reasons.”
from the guardian